By Rossella Brevetti
The Court of International Trade has granted the Chocolate Manufacturers Association request to intervene as a defendant in a case brought by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) against the government, seeking to compel enforcement of laws prohibiting imports of goods made with forced child labor, ILRF announced Feb. 9 (International Labor Rights Fund v. United States, Ct. Int.'l Trade, No. 04-005432/1/05).
At issue in the suit is cocoa imported from the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)--the world's largest exporter of cocoa, providing approximately 40 to 43 percent of the world's supply in recent years. In its motion to intervene, CMA, the premier trade group for cocoa distributors and manufacturers in the United States, said that it previously made a public commitment to ensure that cocoa growers observe internationally recognized labor standards and that barring Ivorian cocoa would have a destructive effect on that nation.
In October 2004, ILRF, Global Exchange, and the Fair Trade Federation filed suit against the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection alleging that it failed to enforce laws protecting U.S. consumers from goods made by forced child labor. The ILRF had filed a petition with Customs on May 30, 2002, requesting an enforcement action under Section 307 of the 1930 Trade Act barring imports of goods made with forced child labor, but Customs did not undertake an investigation.
ILRF's press release said that 2001 media reports exposed the use of child labor in West African cocoa production. ILRF's independent investigations in Côte d'Ivoire found that child labor continues to exist on cocoa farms producing for export to the United States.
ILRF blasted Customs for not taking any action on its petition."This unreasonable delay in investigating cocoa imported from the Ivory Coast has caused millions of dollars' worth of cocoa produced by forced child labor to be imported into the U.S. to the detriment of those domestic importers who observe the law, hundreds if not thousands of children trafficked into slavery in Ivory Coast, and domestic labor rights advocacy associations," the complaint alleged.
The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
CMA Certification Program
CMA's commitment to seeing that cocoa growers observe internationally recognized labor standards was formalized in a protocol signed by some members of Congress and other persons. CMA and its partners undertook various initiatives under the protocol, which CMA said are playing a vital role in developing a certification program.
"Barring Ivorian cocoa would have a significant destructive effect on the farming families who depend on that cocoa for their livelihood," the CMA motion stated. "In addition, it would undermine the cooperative, protocol-based process. If successful, Plaintiffs' actions would not only be counterproductive to the progress CMA and its partners have made to date, but also detrimental to the work that needs to be done. It would also deny CMA's members access to their primary raw material input."
However, ILRF's Bama Athreya charged that the chocolate industry "clearly believes that enslaving children is an acceptable cost of business in order to continue to reap enormous profits."
"If companies were serious about eliminating child labor from their supply chain, they would not be going to this unusual length to ensure non-enforcement of the law," Athreya said in the ILRF press release.
ILRF will file a response to Customs' motion to dismiss on Feb. 22.